WHO chief scientist warns against 'herd immunity' COVID strategy

Ellen Manning
·3 mins read
World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan
WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan has warned against the idea of herd immunity. (Getty)

The WHO’s chief scientist has warned against a ‘herd immunity’ strategy to tackle coronavirus.

Soumya Swaminathan shared an article from VOA News that referred to the gap between the effects of COVID-19 on younger and older people narrowing, writing: “Proponents of natural #HerdImmunity should bear in mind that young people can get very sick, die and suffer long term complications from #COVID19.”

Her comments come after a group of scientists signed an open letter expressing “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies”.

The letter, whose signatories including Dr Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr Sunetra Gupta, epidemiology professor at Oxford University, argues against strict lockdown measures and policies, instead suggesting that herd immunity would be a better approach.

Coronavirus: Top scientists call for herd immunity approach - as government's 'soft touch' criticised

As the UK faces stricter measures to try to control the spread of coronavirus, critics have suggested that the government should have adopted a herd immunity strategy.

Many compare the situation to Sweden, where lockdown rules have been far less stringent, and have suggested that the numbers of cases and deaths have not been affected by a more light-touch approach.

However, figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) suggest that while Sweden’s numbers dropped after a spike in June, they are rising again and increasing faster than its Nordic neighbours.

Scientists have also criticised the herd immunity idea, backing Swaminathan.

Social Psychologist Stephen Reicher, from the Independent SAGE group of scientists, shared her tweet, writing: “Chief Scientist to the WHO warns 'herd immunity' means playing russian roulette with the lives of an entire generation of young people.... when we don't even know if it will actually bring immunity.”

Dr Gabriel Scally, who is President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine and a fellow member of Indepdent SAGE, said: “Let's be very clear where the 'herd immunity' let-it-rip nonsense that is the Great Barrington 'big idea' comes from. It is a product of the US libertarian right. The AIER's goal is "promoting the ideas of pure freedom and private governance". #COVID19 is their big chance.”

He added: “If you are against the ‘herd immunity’ theory you are not automatically ‘pro-lockdown’.

“We would probably not be facing extremely tight measures if we had a properly functioning and effective Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support system. Even better if we had retained 2m distancing.”

How could herd immunity be achieved?

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